Lamp Traditions in India

Lamps are a significant part of Indian culture and tradition, and valued at homes and temples as part of ritualistic worship. It is identified as 'deepam' in southern and 'diya' in northern India. They are also used in various festivals and performances.

In the epic Ramayana, the whole town of Ayodhya was lit with lamps to welcome Lord Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana after defeating Ravana which symbolizes positive power.

In fact, Deepavali or Diwali is a festival which commemorates the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya. The festival features decorating arrays of lamp which symbolizes chasing away darkness from one’s life and ushering prosperity in abundance.

Being the oldest and largest museum of India, Indian Museum on this auspicious occasion proudly presents a selection of traditional lamps from its collection which ranges between early historic periods to the contemporary tradition, including a lamp of Chinese origin used for various purposes.

Lamp on StandIndian Museum, Kolkata

Lamps across India are found made of clay, terracotta, porcelain, brass, bronze, silver etc. The earthen lamp is the most common lamp which is made on the potter’s wheel from clay.

Here is a miniature terracotta lamp on stand.

Earthen Lamp Stand (Dalu) (20th Century)Indian Museum, Kolkata

This is an earthen lamp stand, or also known as dalu. The stand is circular and the base is round and hollowed. You can notice that the semi-circular designed handle is broken. 

Lamp Cover (C. 20th Century AD)Indian Museum, Kolkata

This is a cylindrical earthen lamp cover. The body has three triangular perforations. An engraved circular ring is present at the bottom. The shoulder is decorated with a circular grooved. The mouth is open.

Terracotta Lamp StandIndian Museum, Kolkata

And here is a more elaborate lamp stand from Sambalpur, Odisha, designed with an elephant....

...with a seat on its back.

The bottom is round and the whole body of the object is decorated and designed by concentric rings. 

Lamp on a Stand (C. 20th Century AD)Indian Museum, Kolkata

This is a stone carving of a lamp on a square shaped stand, from Odisha. The whole body of the lamp is decorated with engraved designs. There is an oval shaped groove on the top of the lamp. The wide circular base of the pedestal is flat. The top of lamp is slightly chipped. 

Bronze Temple Lamp (19th Century CE)Indian Museum, Kolkata

Lamps have been found available since the early historic period in a basic form but sometimes with small differences in shapes and styles. Metal lamps are found at Hindu temples where brass, bronze and silver is common materials.

This one, for example, is a bronze temple lamp with a figure of four-armed Ganesha and a man holding the lamp. This artefact is actually from Nepal.

Brass Lamp (C. 19th Century CE)Indian Museum, Kolkata

Here is a brass lamp surmounted by Ganesha placed on an elephant.

Lamp Stand (C. 19th Century CE)Indian Museum, Kolkata

Here is another brass lamp stand with two pieces on the back of mythological lion. This one was found near Nasik.

Garuda Shaped Brass Lamp (C. 19th Century AD)Indian Museum, Kolkata

Regional forms and the way of decorating lamps is a notable feature.  South India and Gujarat have their own array of lamps. 

Here is a brass lamp stand in the form of Garuda with folded hands. This was found in Benaras.

Jamuna (19th Century)Indian Museum, Kolkata

The figure of Jamuna is standing on a tortoise, holding a mirror in the right hand and a lamp in the left hand. The body is designed. 

There are three short stands below the tortoise, one each under two fore legs and one under the tail.

Singhasan/ Model of a ThroneIndian Museum, Kolkata

This Singhasan or Model of a Throne is in fact a lamp, made of brass. A figure of a deity with two elephants at two sides present on the back rest of the throne on both sides. 

A Lady with a Lamp (20th Century)Indian Museum, Kolkata

A lady with a lamp, the object is made of brass. The lady is standing on a circular pedestal, holding a lamp with two hands. The circular pedestal is placed on a square pedestal.

Singhasan/ Model of a ThroneIndian Museum, Kolkata

A short handle designed with two human figures is present at the to hold. There is a groove where oil can be poured.

A Lady with a Lamp (20th Century)Indian Museum, Kolkata

Her hair is styled as a bun. On her left shoulder a parrot is seated. 

Chirag/ Brass Lamp (1901/2000)Indian Museum, Kolkata

This is a chirag lamp, made of brass. The inner surface of the lamp has a groove. The groove of the lamp is decorated with engraved circles. A notch is present at the front of the lamp to hold a wick. It is used for religious purpose.

Lamp (19th Century)Indian Museum, Kolkata

Lamps which are used during the time of prayer are called aarti deepa which comes with a handle. The lamp is a symbol of Goddess Lakshmi and is known as deepalakshmi.

Here's another lamp, made of brass. The lamp has three notches for lighting three separate flames. The handle of the lamp is curved.

Pilsuj/ Lamp standIndian Museum, Kolkata

This is a pilsuj, or lamp stand, made of brass. The base of the lamp stand consists of a circular plate having a vertically placed cylindrical stick, on which a bowl with four notches are present at its four corners.

Many temples have niches in the walls where lamps are placed. A lamp pillar or deepasthambham has plates at equal intervals which hold the oil and wicks. The plates get smaller and the top of the pillar is decorated with an animal or bird figure commonly lion or peacock on top.

Chodne/ Lamp (20th Century)Indian Museum, Kolkata

This lamp or chodne, is with two bowls - one small bowl at the top of the lamp attached to a cylindrical, vertical piece which also holds a large bowl in the middle of the lamp stand. The base is an upturned bowl. This artefact is from Ladakh.

Pancha Pradip/ Lamp (C. 19th Century AD)Indian Museum, Kolkata

The pancha pradip is a lamp stand with five decorated bowls, in a horizontal style. The object is made of brass and is decorated with vine plants and leaves.

Pancha Pradip (C. 19th Century CE)Indian Museum, Kolkata

This pancha pradip or a five candle or lamp holder is a bit more elaborate and vertically placed.

Copper Lamp (C. 19th Century AD)Indian Museum, Kolkata

The museum has many artefacts uncovered over time. This copper lamp is from Tanjore, possibly from the 19th century.

Lamp-Shaped Bowl (20th Century)Indian Museum, Kolkata

This is a lamp shaped bowl, made of brass. The bowl has a projection that gives the appearance of a lamp. It is provided with a handle. The handle consists a brass bar, attached to one side of the rim and it is bifurcated or pronged at the middle of the bowl, joining two sides of the opening . As a result, the handle is fixed at three places of the bowl.

Brass Lamp Handle (C. 19th Century CE)Indian Museum, Kolkata

Here is a brass lamp handle. This object is from Tibet.

Brass Butter Lamp (19th Century CE)Indian Museum, Kolkata

A brass butter lamp, also from Tibet.

Copper Butter Lamp (C. 20th Century AD)Indian Museum, Kolkata

And a copper butter lamp, again from Tibet, which is placed before an avatar.

Lamp Shaped Box (C. 19th Century CE)Indian Museum, Kolkata

Here is a lamp shaped box with cover made out of straw. A decorative object, from Muzzafarpur.

Chinese Lamp (C. 20th Century AD)Indian Museum, Kolkata

This is a Chinese lamp for smoking opium, the body made of copper and white metal and cased in a finely carved perforated screen of silver. The stand is the same and inlaid with silver Chinese designs and inscriptions. Its glass chimney, however, is missing.

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